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Charities call for focus on women’s issues

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Pay call: Elaine Butterfield, executive director of the Women’s Resource Centre (File photograph)

Charities have called for more attention to women’s problems and streamlined services to help struggling families in the wake of Government’s Throne Speech.

Leaders of the Women’s Resource Centre and housing organisation Habitat for Humanity of Bermuda welcomed some commitments in the Throne Speech but proposed further measures that could make a difference to the people they help.

Elaine Butterfield, the WRC executive director, said the charity was pleased to see a plan that “is clearly intended to address the issue of economic disempowerment in this country”.

She added that “innovative initiatives such as relief for vacation property rentals, entrepreneurial opportunities and the introduction of fintech technology” would contribute to a “measurable impact” for everyone.

Ms Butterfield said: “Most initiatives are forward-thinking, however, as some have already expressed, there needs to be more consideration given to those who need ‘wraparound support services’ — those without the will to embrace these opportunities.

“Government support for our helping services will solve this issue.”

Ms Butterfield added: “We would also like to have seen an initiative to address the issue of gender inequality in Bermuda.

“We see this disparity in our daily business — however, there is not much information that shows the quality of life for the 52 per cent of our population who are women.

“A suggestion would be to incorporate race and sex in each topic covered in the census. This would allow a greater depth and knowledge around issues relating to women so that we have a true picture of the quality of life for all women, including those heading up 88 per cent of our single-parent households.”

She said: “Women are still dealing with pay equity issues. The average salary for men is higher than women at every educational level.

“Women are still discriminated against in the workplace regarding maternity leave and gender discrimination protection is not in the Bermuda Constitution.”

Ms Butterfield added that, despite the adoption of the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women in 2017, “there has been no education or movement since the ratification”.

She said: “We do, however, commend the Government’s initiative through the Women’s Caucus to increase the number of women in Parliament.”

Sheelagh Cooper, the chairwoman of Habitat for Humanity of Bermuda, said she was “very encouraged” to see proposals aimed to improve the financial prospects of people who were struggling.

She said: “Taxes geared to one’s ability to pay and policies that move us towards a living wage are fundamental to increasing the disposable income for the bottom quartile of the population.

“At Habitat, we see on a daily basis the impact that poverty has on the lives of families who are either living in derelict conditions or have no home at all. For children especially, this level of poverty is devastating.”

They were speaking after Martha Dismont, Family Centre executive director, said charitable organisations had anticipated a more “strategic focus” to tackle problems like poor attainment in education, a lack of job opportunities and the causes of crime and violence.

Ms Cooper backed Ms Dismont’s request for a better strategy. She added: “There are many improvements that can be made to the safety net that could have a profound impact but would cost nothing and may even save money.

“An example of this is the three most important government departments set up to help vulnerable families — the Bermuda Housing Corporation, the Department of Financial Assistance and the Department of Child and Family Services.

“At the moment, these agencies are located in three different government ministries.”

Ms Cooper said bringing all three together would improve services and make it easier for clients.

She added: “Habitat is currently working with the Women’s Resource Centre to address the growing challenge of homeless families and one strategy that we have found helpful is to have homeless or formerly homeless mothers as part of our planning team.

“We have found their involvement to provide an invaluable part of the planning process.

“This is another way of ensuring that what limited funds that Government has available are used in a way that truly reflects the needs of the people they are designed to serve.”

Devastating poverty: Sheelagh Cooper, chairwoman of Habitat for Huimanity of Bermuda (File photograph)